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Craven Seminar: 'Eschatology and Apocalypse in Graeco-Roman literature'

Craven Seminar, 1-3 June 2017 ‘Eschatology and Apocalypse in Graeco-Roman literature’ G.21 Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge

Unlike other ancient traditions, the literature of Greece and Rome does not develop a mythology of the End of Days. Its few philosophical texts that explicitly address the question of whether the world will end, and the place of humans in such scenarios, are, however, only one part of the story of eschatological thinking in antiquity. Images of our collective future, like images of our past, are motivated by constructions of the present, and may be spun different ways to make different points, with explicit or implied consequences for our current place in the world. Various rhetorical functions of adopting an 'apocalyptic' mode, such as consolation for death, subversion of tyrannical powers, revelation of 'scientific' truths, or satire of religious clichés, emerge through framing and form as well as content. They contribute not so much to a thesis as to a discourse.

 This conference aims to explore such a discourse in Graeco-Roman literary culture, focusing on ancient texts in which a revelation of a collective destiny plays a significant role. We shall consider both 'cosmic revelations' and 'looking to the end of history' as aspects of apocalyptic eschatology in material from the Greek and Roman worlds; through highlighting such rhetoric, we aim to shed fresh light on a variety of ancient authors, from Aeschylus and Plato to Lucretius and Seneca; we will also consider Jewish pseudepigraphical texts and early Christian expositions which thrive on tensions between the working out of divine plans already made and semi-revealed to mortals, and the irruption of the heavenly into the earthly world.

 Issues we aim to address include: 1. When, how, why and for what projects or audiences did Greeks and Romans imagine collective destiny or the revelation of cosmic mysteries in their writings? 2. Were there any notable shifts in the 'apocalyptic discourse' of pagan antiquity (e.g. with the development of Stoicism)? 3. How far can the uses of 'eschatology' in Greco-Roman writings shed light on Judaeo-Christian 'apocalyptic' rhetoric?

2017 Seminar programme

Attendance is free of charge to senior members of Cambridge University and registered graduate students of the Faculty of Classics, but places are limited and so registration is necessary. To register, please visit the University booking page:

Enquiries may be addressed to the organizers, Richard Hunter ( and Helen Van Noorden (

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